When Elyria Catholic takes the field tonight at Twinsburg High School for its Division III regional semifinal against Hawken, the Panthers won’t just be playing for themselves and their coaches. They will also be playing for family — the Elyria Catholic soccer family.
While some of the Panthers — such as co-captains Tony Sanabria and Michael Saddler — had older brothers who played on the 2010 and ’11 district championship teams, the Elyria Catholic soccer family extends beyond bloodlines to encompass all who’ve worn the green and white.
“These boys really rely on the support of the alumni,” Elyria Catholic coach Attila Csiszar said. “As a matter of fact, I have alumni who have been calling or texting me to congratulate us and telling us to keep it alive and keep working hard. When I tell the boys about that, it really gives them a spark to know that their older brothers and their alumni are behind them 100 percent.”
Sanabria, whose older brother Frank was a goalkeeper on the 2010 team and is currently playing at Walsh University, became a big brother of sorts to this year’s players when Chris Clark — the only other senior on the roster — went down with an early season injury.
“I tell (the younger players) to watch and learn from the older players, that that will prepare them for the big games,” Sanabria said. “It is also exciting to see them get their chance to start and I am proud of our two freshman (Patrick Orsagos and Drew Dziak) and all of our younger players. They all get better day by day, and they really know what to do out there.”
Csiszar said Sanabria really stepped up and assumed a leadership role after Clark’s injury.
“Tony took on a captain role midway through the season,” Csiszar said. “Not only has he been playing big from the stopper role, he also took over as a leader as well.”
Sanabria said the first thing he usually does after a big game is call his brother, whom he credits with giving him advice on training and improving his game, with the goal of also playing at the college level.
“His legacy at EC is amazing, but I want to top his legacy so that I am the one remembered in the future,” Sanabria said. “My brother only won one district title and I have already won two so I feel like I am a step ahead of him, but he always reminds me his was in Division II.
“But he was a goalkeeper and I am a defender, so I was never recognized as much as he was which really impacted me as a player and made me push myself to the best of my abilities.”
Saddler — the only player to be on the field for all three Panthers district championships — said he has also received advice from his brother Stephen, a freshman at Tiffin University.
“He told me to just help the team out and play hard and do what I do best, show them how to play in a regional semifinal by how I handle myself on the field,” said Saddler. “I can let my team know that if we lock it down on defense we can beat Hawken, but I know if I just practice hard and play hard the rest of the team will do the same.”
Csiszar is the latest caretaker of the Elyria Catholic soccer tradition that was started by assistant coach Mike Wisnor, who was the head coach for a decade before stepping down to concentrate on his roles as athletic director and assistant principle.
“The foundation for our current and future success has been set by Mike (Wisnor), who did a terrific job of setting the tone in prior seasons,” Csiszar said. “He and I work so well together and really complement each other. We’re all on the same page and that helps our players to prepare for current and future success.”
The first item on the agenda for building upon the program’s past success is getting past the Hawks, who ended Elyria Catholic’s season with a 5-4 regional semifinal win last season, and bring the Panthers family one step closer to a trip to Columbus Crew Stadium, home of the state finals.
“We’re aiming for states, but we are also taking one game at a time,” Saddler said. “None of us have been to the regional finals so to take that next step would be amazing.”
- WHO: Elyria Catholic (10-7-1) vs. Hawken (14-1-4)
- WHAT: Division III regional soccer semifinal
- TIME: 7 o’clock
- WHERE: Twinsburg High School
Contact Todd Shapiro at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.